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Localization, languages, and listening

I was born and raised in the countryside of Sonoma County, California, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Growing up, we didn’t travel much as a family, but I was always fascinated by different cultures. Many of my closest friends were immigrants; I always felt so grateful when they would invite me into their homes to share their food, traditions, and stories with me.

These friendships inspired a desire to travel, but the timing was never quite right. When Evan and I started working on Figma, we were all in, and I assumed it would be a long time before I had a chance to explore the world.

Thankfully, Figma had other plans. From day one, we saw ~80% of our weekly active users were outside the United States. Globally, the entire economy was shifting from physical to digital. Suddenly everyone was a student of design, software, and creativity.

Learning from designers everywhere

Wanting to understand our business better, I started flying out to meet customers around the world to learn how they used Figma. These trips taught me about the distinct needs of users in different regions. They also shaped some of the viewpoints I hold most dear, such as the moral imperative to create opportunity for everyone. Eventually these ideas and experiences led me to Figma’s vision statement: “Make design accessible to all.”

Today, I’m excited to share three steps we’re taking towards making this vision a reality and making Figma a more global company.

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Our journey to Japan

You might have already noticed this on TwitterFigma is now in Japan! We’ve incorporated, set up an office in Tokyo (officially our first hub in Asia!), and hired an amazing local leader, Hiro Kawanobe. While Figma already has a handful of Japanese customers, we historically haven’t seen as much adoption in Japan as compared to other regions. We wanted to understand why.

Through customer conversations we heard loud and clear that Figma’s English-only approach wouldn’t work if we wanted Figma to be adopted in Japan. Shortly after, we started the process of localizing Figma into Japanese. The team is making good progress, and we hope to have a localized product experience by end of year. We’re also hiring across the business (sales, marketing, community, support, and more), so that we can best support our Japanese customers.

Expanding in EMEA

Nothing beats having Figmates on the ground to understand customer needs. So we’ve decided to further expand our presence in Europe. In addition to our London office, we’re delighted to be opening offices in Paris and Berlin over the coming months. As we continue to grow our presence in Europe, we will also keep exploring new opportunities to expand our language support in ways that are meaningful and useful to our community.

With so many international users, it wasn’t a surprise to see RTL language support requested from day one. Today, we are happy to finally support RTL languages in Figma!

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And yes, I’ll be the first to say it: we absolutely should have built this sooner. Perhaps you are curious what took us so long?

While some of our competitors get RTL for “free” by building on platforms like macOS, Figma’s entire rendering stack is custom built by our team for optimal performance. We also have our own text rendering engine, so when we want to do something like RTL, we have to implement a lot of the feature from scratch.

From a design standpoint, RTL is not quite as simple as you might think. One complexity is bi-directional text—for example, the ability to put English words within Arabic text. In situations like these, it’s harder to lay out the text correctly. You also need to make smart choices around how to handle cursor navigation, text wrapping, and situations where heuristics fail.

Additionally, some Arabic scripts are substantially more complex than the Western fonts we typically deal with at Figma. Letterforms sometimes change depending on whether the word starts, contains or ends with a relevant glyph. Characters at the boundary of language directions can sometimes be ambiguous and many fonts have complex diacritics (accents).

Finally, we want to thank the many developers who were instrumental in helping us build support for RTL. Ahmad Al Haddad and Saeed Alipoor created the two most popular RTL plugins in the Figma Community, and they worked alongside our engineering team to make sure Figma’s RTL implementation was compatible with the text created through their plugins. In addition, the two of them, along with long time evangelist Ido Zaifman, plugin author Tsurit Ben-Tsur, and several others helped us identify critical bugs during our beta program.

Grow as you go

Figma is built to be an inclusive space where everyone is invited to design, build, and play. We understand that it’s 2022, and the world has a range of stereotypes about Americans, let alone American tech companies. As Figma enters new markets, we pledge to show up with humility and a learning mindset. There may be times when we miss the mark or when our efforts get lost in translation. My only ask: let us know when we mess up so we can learn and get better.

One of our favorite phrases at Figma is “meet us in the browser.” When we say this, it’s as much an invitation as it is a call to action, because the truth is that so many of you are already here, showing up and giving us amazing, valuable feedback. We appreciate your support and we don’t take your trust in Figma for granted.

We’re hiring in Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, and beyond! Learn more about Figma and our open roles here.

Written by Dylan Field, Co-founder & CEO, Figma

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